A number of months ago, I was approached by folks at the Faculty of Theology at Huron about being interviewed for a promotional video for the Master of Divinity program. Logistics of me being in Victoria and the videographer being in London made it a challenge at first, but we managed to find a time when I was in Toronto for PWRDF meetings to sit down and talk about my experiences of that program. I said lots of things, most of which was, I’m sure, incoherent. But James, the amazing videographer, somehow took them and made me sound intelligent! Many thanks to Todd, the Dean of the Faculty, for trusting me with saying things about that great place. Honoured to be with David Giffen in his beautiful parish for this video.
A sermon preached at Grace United Church, Sarnia, Ontario
Text: John 21:1-19
Two weeks later, here we are, back at the seashore… Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two others have returned to the Sea. Here they are, all together sitting around a fire on the seaside. They’re just hanging out. Ever the impetuous one of the group, Peter suddenly looks up: “Guys, I’m going fishing.” One by one they join him and soon all of the boats are back out on the water.
Follow me, said Jesus, and I will make you fish for people. But now our fishermen have returned to their fish.
Easter. Two weeks ago we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead with what was likely a lot more faith and hope than did Mary, Simon Peter, and the other disciple when they encountered the empty tomb early that morning. It was empty of Jesus’ body and, in the words of Mary when she unknowingly encountered Jesus in the garden, “they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”
The inclination that something had happened doesn’t seem to have fully sunk in, however. The evening of the day Jesus rose, the disciples were hiding away behind a locked door. A locked door?! So much for believing in the power of the resurrection!
To their surprise, and very likely ours had we been in their shoes, Jesus appeared among them, speaking to them before breathing his spirit upon them as he sent them out.
But… one week later, there we are, still in the same room with the same locked door, clearly not entirely sure of what has happened. Jesus appears again in our midst and we are able to see and touch him.
Another week passes and the disciples are no longer locked up in the room. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanial, James, John, and two others have walked some 170 kilometres north of Jerusalem to the Sea of Tiberias – the Sea of Galilee. That’s not too far off the distance between here and, say, Kitchener. First century roads, however, are far cry from our highways and it took them a little longer to plod the dusty tracks of Israel than the couple of hours it might take us to drive that distance today.
It is a familiar road.
I wonder if they were recalling the last time they had all walked it: on the way to Jerusalem and the way to Jesus’ death on the cross, though they did not know it at the time.
This time, though, we’re headed north instead of south. Perhaps they feel as we sometimes do when travelling: the return road seems to pass by faster than the leaving did. Despite the hills and the dust as we walk along, maybe our pace begins to pick up as we get closer to the Sea.
They’re going home.
Did the painful and confusing memories of the previous few weeks in Jerusalem begin to fade as they put some distance between themselves and the city? Were they talking about what had happened? Were they trying to forget? Or were they still struggling to make sense of what had happened?
Despite having seen Jesus, seen him twice for some of those in our travelling group, there seems to be some confusion about what to do now. Jesus sent them out, but maybe they don’t know what that means.
So we are gathered together beside the Sea, their familiar place, the place where they had fished every day up until Jesus called each one, one-by-one.
Two weeks after the resurrection and that first Easter morning, two weeks after Jesus’ appearance to the disciples and his sending them out… Three years of hearing Jesus’ teachings day-in-day-out and seeing his miraculous actions, and we are back where we started: at the sea, fishing.
I don’t know about you, but Easter Sunday wasn’t even over before I was back to my regular routine: papers to write, textbooks to read…
We have work to do. Activities to plan. People to see. Daily life catches up with us and it is easy to forget.
The writer of the gospel of John doesn’t tell us the motives behind Peter’s return to fishing fish, so we are left to fill in some of those blanks. Thinking about human nature, though, I think that I get it: Life has been pretty uncertain for awhile. They haven’t had a stable place to stay for anything more than a few nights at a time. Their leader has just died and then strangely reappeared.
The economy is uncertain. Unemployment has been dragging on and on. Too many good people have died for what seems like no reason. Food prices keep fluctuating.
It is pretty natural to want to stay in the security and certainty of things that are known, even if it does mean going back.
But can we go back? Can we remain unchanged?
Easter has happened and is happening whether we feel certain about it or not.
Today we call the third Sunday of Easter – so our feet are still firmly planted in the season of Easter.
With the cross and resurrection, time shifted and what was then is now. Rather than Easter being that day we look forward to once a year, it is every single day.
The sun rises every morning and we are reminded that early in the morning today, yesterday, and tomorrow, Jesus rose.
So it is for the disciples, whether they knew it or not: the things they witnessed and participated in over the previous three years have changed them irrevocably. There really is no going back for any of us.
As if as a reminder of that, Jesus suddenly appears to us for the third time since he rose.
But, we don’t know it is him at first. We’re still out fishing – well, trying to fish. It has been a bad night and we have caught nothing.
Maybe they had been about to give up anyway. Thomas, leaning over to Peter, reminding him that he had thought this was a bad idea in the first place: they hadn’t fished in three years! What made us think we could just pick it back up?
And a figure appears on the beach, shouting out: Have you caught anything?
I’m not much of a fisherman. Two summers on the lake with my husband and his family haven’t increased my skill at all, so I have some understanding of what it feels like to have to respond to that question with a sigh and a Nope. Still haven’t even caught one fish…
But I have enough of an understanding of how fishing works to realize that when you’re out in the middle of the sea, throwing your net or your rod over the other side of a small boat isn’t going to make a huge difference.
Believe me, I’ve tried everything.
But that is what Jesus tells them to do: Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.
So they do it and have an epic haul of fish. The gospel writer tells us that there were so many fish that they were not able to haul in the net, fearful that it might break.
Such abundant grace from Jesus: these people he had invested so much time and energy into over the last three years seem to have abandoned everything to go back to how life was before they met him. Rather than pout or get angry, Jesus extends so much grace that it strains our capacity.
Because that is what grace does.
When you least expect it. When all hope is gone. When you wonder what you are doing. When there are no fish. When you think there is no future.
There is overflowing abundant grace.
Not blame for having failed. Not guilt for feeling like there is no hope. Not shame for feeling lost.
Only overflowing abundant grace.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness, in your doubt, in your confusion…
And then, as if to settle it, Jesus invites them to share a meal.
They came, Jesus took bread, broke it, and passed it to his disciples.
Then he did the same thing with the fish.
Eat with me, he said.
Remember what happens when we eat?
Where two or three are gathered,
Whenever you break bread and eat, you do this in memory of me.
It is so simple, isn’t it?
In the midst of our doubts, in the midst of our uncertainties, Jesus shows up on the shore and invites them to share a meal once again. We sit down together and eat: whether it be around the Table of the Lord on a Sunday morning as the church community breaks bread together, around the kitchen table at home with the familiar laughter of family or friends, or around tables in a church hall smelling and tasting rich and fragrant soup prepared by your church family, Jesus is with us on the shore this morning, inviting us to share life and eat with him.
The Last Supper and resurrection meals fold into one with the changing of time and we find community and fellowship with each other.
Not only that, but we remember that today is Easter. And tomorrow when we wake up and eat breakfast, it is still Easter. And the next day, and the day after that.
Shortly after Jesus rose, two disciples, in their fear and uncertainty, went for a walk and found themselves at the table, eating with Jesus.
As the bread was broken and shared, their eyes were opened and they realized that Jesus had been amongst them the entire time, overflowing with such grace that their hearts had been burning with the joy of his presence.
May it be for us as it was for them: as we eat, as we drink, may we find and know the abundance of God’s grace in our lives and in our lives together.
Sometimes in my role as Co-President and Secretary for the Bishop Hallam Theological Society Council at Huron I get to do some really neat things.
One of my tasks is checking the Society’s mail. I usually check every few days, more or less frequently if there are things I am expecting or if school is not in session. Last week, a small envelope appeared in our mailbox. The address was written with shaky-looking writing and there was no street address or postal code: just “The Bishop Hallam Theological Society, Huron College, London Ontario. The postmark suggested that it had been mailed in December meaning it took two months to find us – but that Canada Post still managed to get it to the right building! (Small miracles!)
Two small pieces of paper torn from a spiral ring notebook were inside, with a return address from a retirement home in Owen Sound, Ontario. It read:
To the Bishop Hallam Theological Society Huron College London Ontario.
Is it possible to obtain copies of diakonos, the theological journal of Huron College London Ontario published by the Bishop Hallam Theological Society Huron College London 1965? My husband was the editor of this journal and we lived in a cottage next door to Huron College.
Would it be possible to obtain copies of this Journal? as I would very much like to be able to give a copy to each of my 3 children.
I had no idea what she was talking about. The BHTS no longer publishes a journal – in fact I hadn’t even known we had in the past! Fortunately I happened to be near the Dean’s office when I opened and read the envelope and he and the Assistant to the Dean, both of whom have a long memory of things at the school, were in their offices. When I inquired about the journal, they both knew exactly what our letter writer was talking about!
It turns out that the BHTS did publish a journal, roughly from 1964 to 1967 or 68 from what I can tell. Copies are hard to come by now, for obvious reasons. There is a copy of each issue in the archives and the Dean has a copy of each issue in his office. Coincidentally, fortuitously, or providentially, he had a second copy of the 1965 edition which he was happy to give me. Yes, the surname of the editor is the same as the surname of our letter-writer.
Happily, I have been able to respond to our letter-writer with a note, thanking her for writing and for allowing us to reconnect with a piece of our history and to reconnect with the hundreds of faithful people educated at this seminary before us. I was sorry that I did not have three to send to her, one for each of her children, but so thankful that there “just happened” to be an extra copy of the one her husband was the editor of. I hope that she enjoys reading it as much as we have enjoyed being reconnected with a piece of our history that we had lost.
Last week I attended Preaching Camp.
Matthew and I, along with Todd, our Dean of Theology at Huron, were honoured to be included in the Episcopal Preaching Foundation’s Preaching Excellent Program (PEP) for Seminarians. While Todd was faculty and facilitated both small group workshops and teaching, Matthew and I were grouped into different preaching groups with six or seven other Episcopal seminarians from across the United States. Within our groups we preached sermons we had previously prepared for school or church placement contexts and then workshopped them together. These sessions were interspersed with plenary sessions from the likes of renowned preacher Tom Long and smaller group sessions on practical preaching tools taught by PEP faculty.
It was an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only was the retreat centre, the Roslyn Center of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, a beautiful facility with heartfelt hospitality, but our fellow preachers were amazing. Huron University College is a wonderful school and I enjoy studying there. However we rarely have the opportunity to dialogue with other Anglican/Episcopal seminarians. Here, we had dozens with whom we could toss around ideas about preaching and about the future of the church, with whom we could pray and sing, and with whom we could celebrate birthdays (that’s right – I celebrated my birthday in Virginia alongside a new friend from Yale Divinity).
A great big thank you to the Episcopal Preaching Foundation for including us in PEP this year – the first of what will hopefully be many to come for Canadian seminarians!
Text Luke 1:26-38 (The Annunciation); Preached at St Andrew Memorial, London Ontario
Middle of the night phone calls or knocks on the door are always unsettling. First there is that sudden ascent into consciousness. Then there is the noise. Loud and shrill: the ring of a phone. Strong thuds: the pounding on the door in the wee hours of the morning. Noises that are destined to set the heart racing.
Blood pounds through the veins, each beat of the heart a prayer on behalf of the one who has no words.
An unfamiliar voice, a uniformed person, “I am just calling with a message…”
She knows it’s a tough place to raise a kid. Especially one who can be opinionated and outspoken like this one. It just isn’t safe to stick your neck out like that here, and she has told him that more times than she can count. Last week, the priest’s dog disappeared … and everyone knows it is because the priest was too outspoken against the government, but no one has any hard evidence.
That is always the way it is. Things happen but there is never any way to assign blame.
It is just a matter of time.
She lifts her eyes up, sighing out her frequent prayer, “How long, O Lord, must your people wait in suffering and in silence.”
As if to prove her fears true, she sees a familiar figure limping down the long dirt road that runs through the village. Soon, his swollen and bloodied face comes into focus through her tears: “They said they were sending a message, mom.”
That time lag between the doctor’s call and the doctor appointment is always nerve-wracking. Every single scenario known to humankind – or the Internet – has flashed before the eyes and given that sinking feeling inside, all before a foot is even set inside the doctor’s door. And then you wait – wait with little to cling onto save that reassurance of “I will never leave you or forsake you” that is both comforting and hollow at a time like this.
Finally the impassive doctor comes into the room wearing a sterile white coat, clipboard in hand. You’ve never seen this doctor before and it is a little intimidating. The doctor clears his throat, pauses, and then opens his mouth to deliver the message.
She is probably minding her own business, going about her day as usual. She lives in a small, out of the way, unimportant village in a small, out of the way province, in a big empire. In this village over 2000 miles away from the centre of the empire, there aren’t many strangers that wander through town save maybe the odd soldier stationed at the garrison 30 miles down the road.
And it is probably a good thing that there aren’t many strangers. Those that run the empire aren’t always friendly to the locals. If a solider tells you to pick up and carry his gear for a mile, there really isn’t any safe way of refusing. The political government and the religious leadership don’t always get along. When they do, it is often to unite against young, vocal activists – anarchists you might call them – or martyrs – or zealots – activists who are disrupting the uneasy peace that the community has settled into.
Mind your own business, keep your head down; don’t look for trouble and trouble likely won’t look for you. That is the best way to live when it seems like God has forgotten you and your country.
Imagine if you will – or maybe you don’t have to imagine because it is all too real – the idea of God being silent. God hasn’t spoken to you or noticeably acted around you for years.
You don’t hear from God. You as a people thought you were “the chosen ones” – the ones upon whom God’s favour rested, and you had God’s king whose kingdom was going to last forever. You had God’s temple, where God lived and where you could worship God freely.
And then it all fell apart – literally. The kings were killed or deported and that line ended, the temple was destroyed and it seemed that God left the land, the people were exiled and you did not know if or where God is anymore.
Life goes on, but it is certainly not the same life that you knew before, when you had tangible evidence that you were God’s chosen people.
Songs of Lament are a regular prayer, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!” (Ps. 13)
And so we return to the young woman in the small, unimportant village, in the out of the way province, in the big empire. She is going about her day as a normal day. Yes, the Temple has been rebuilt in Jerusalem, but God still seems absent. There haven’t been prophets speaking God’s message the way her ancestors would have heard it. Foreigners occupy and rule the land. The wealthy landowners have gotten their wealth off of the backs of the regular person who is often forced into working as a tenant farmer while the owners head off to live the good life in the city.
Then the stranger appears in town – a stranger that the woman has never seen the like of before – not even in her dreams. Or nightmares.
“Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”
The Lord is with you.
With five simple words everything changes.
The Lord is with you.
What sort of greeting is this?
The Lord is with you:
“You, Mary, will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.”
Mary pauses: I’m from a small town – I know how babies are made. I’ve got to tell you – that’s not happening here!
The Lord is with you, the messenger said.
The Lord is with you:
With five simple words the Word that once hovered over the waters when darkness covered the face of the deep broke its silence and announced its intention to become flesh and dwell among us.
The Lord is with you: nothing will be impossible with God.
The Lord is with me: Here I am, the servant of the Lord; Let it be with me according to your word.
The Lord is with you.
These five simple words we say each week as we gather together around the table: The Lord be with you.
Maybe they are not so simple words, after all.
What does it mean, what does it look like to say that the Lord is with us?
The Lord who was born in a manger in Bethlehem, who walked on dusty roads, who healed the sick, and fed the hungry, The Lord who walked on water and died on a cross. The Lord who, on the third day, rose from the dead: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who holds your beating heart in love when your phone rings in the middle of the night or when you awake to pounding on the door: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who is there when you wipe away tears and wash bruised and bloodied faces of those persecuted for standing up for justice – or when you simply stand in solidarity with them: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who is there, laughing when you laugh and crying when you cry: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who, as Mary sang in her joy, brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts the lowly; who fills the hungry with good things and has sent the rich away empty: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who sits with you in those times of uncertainty, who accompanies you when there is news from the doctor: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who welcomes children, who calls rough-around-the-edges working class folks, and who breaks bread with outcasts and sinners: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who walks beside you as you feed the hungry, give clothing to the naked, sit with the hurting: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who journeys beside you in the joys or in the mundane of daily life: The Lord is with you.
The Lord is with you: Not only is this our anticipation in Advent, this is our Reality every day.
The Lord is with us.